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Indigenous Language Revitalization in Canada

Before European settlement in Canada, Indigenous peoples spoke a wide variety of languages. As a means of assimilating Indigenous peoples, colonial policies like the Indian Act and residential schools forbid the speaking of Indigenous languages. These restrictions have led to the ongoing endangerment of Indigenous languages in Canada. In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that for about 40 Indigenous languages in Canada, there are only about 500 speakers or less. Indigenous communities and various educational institutions have taken measures to prevent more language loss and to preserve Indigenous languages.

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Jean Chrétien

Joseph-Jacques Jean Chrétien, CC, PC, OM, QC, prime minister of Canada 1993–2003, lawyer, author, politician (born 11 January 1934 in Shawinigan, QC). Lawyer and longtime parliamentarian Jean Chrétien was Canada’s 20th prime minister. Early in his political career, Chrétien helped negotiate the patriation of the Canadian constitution as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Prime Minister, he led the federal government to its first surplus in nearly 30 years. However, his administration also presided over a costly sponsorship program in Quebec that sparked one of the worst political scandals of modern times. His government committed Canadian forces to the Kosovo conflict (1999) and to the war in Afghanistan (beginning in 2002). Chrétien publicly refused to provide direct support for the subsequent American war in Iraq. The recipient of numerous honours and awards, he is involved in several international organizations dedicated to peace, democracy and other global concerns.

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Walking Buffalo (Tatanga Mani)

Walking Buffalo (born Tatanga Mani, also known as George McLean), Stoney-Nakoda leader, statesman, philosopher (born 20 March 1870 in the Bow River Valley near Morley, AB; died 27 December 1967 in Banff, AB). Walking Buffalo was present at the signing of Treaty 7 (1877) and later served as a respected leader in Bearspaw First Nation until his death. Walking Buffalo preached world peace and, in 1959, journeyed around the globe to spread this word. He was a strong advocate for protecting the environment and Indigenous rights and culture.

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Max Gros-Louis

Magella “Max” Gros-Louis (or Oné Onti in the Huron-Wendat language, meaning “paddler”), politician, businessman (born on 6 August 1931 in Wendake, QC; died on 14 November 2020 in Quebec City, QC). As chief of the Huron-Wendat for 33 years, Gros-Louis championed several Indigenous causes including the fight for recognition of Indigenous territory and overall equality for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

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Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot)

Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot), Siksika chief (born circa 1830 near Belly River, AB; died 25 April 1890, near Blackfoot Crossing, AB). Known more commonly as Crowfoot, Isapo-Muxika was a Siksika chief and diplomat who negotiated with the federal government on behalf of the Blackfoot Confederacy. He was a key link between Indigenous peoples on the western Plains and colonial forces by way of the North-West Mounted Police, and was key negotiator and supporter of Treaty 7.

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Mi’k ai’stoowa (Red Crow)

Mi’k ai’stoowa, also known as Red Crow, warrior, peacemaker, Kainai (Blood) leader (born ca. 1830 near the junction of St. Mary’s and Oldman rivers, AB; died 28 August 1900 near the Belly River on the Kainai reserve, AB). Head chief of the Kainai, Mi’k ai’stoowa was a skilled negotiator and passionate advocate for his people. Mi’k ai’stoowa sought improved conditions for the Kainai in the wake of monumental changes amid the decline of the bison in traditional territories in the 1860s and 1870s, the encroachment of European settlers and the disastrous effects of smallpox epidemics.

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Piapot

Piapot (also spelled Payipwat, meaning “One Who Knows the Secrets of the Sioux,” originally named Kisikawasan, meaning “Flash in the Sky”), Cree chief (born in 1816 on the southern prairies; died in 1908 on the Piapot Reserve, SK). During Piapot’s 92 years, he witnessed great changes on the Canadian prairies, including the disappearance of the bison and the settlement of non-Indigenous peoples on Indigenous lands. As chief, Piapot resisted assimilation and strove to uphold Cree customs and traditions.

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10 Indigenous Firsts

Indigenous peoples have contributed greatly to Canadian society, culture and politics. Despite facing discrimination, racial segregation and policies of assimilation, Indigenous peoples have fought to make this country a better place for all, and to protect their own Indigenous cultures. From leaders in the fields of medicine and law, to war veterans, chiefs and politicians, many Indigenous peoples have risen to the top of their respective fields, championing a variety of causes. This list of 10 Indigenous “firsts” celebrates those trailblazers who were the first in their profession to make historic accomplishments in Canada.

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Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation

Qalipu (pronounced: ha-lee-boo) is a Mi’kmaq First Nation based in Newfoundland and Labrador. The nation was established in 2011 under the Indian Act. According to the federal government, Qalipu has 24,243 registered members, making it the second-largest First Nation by population in Canada. The nation’s members hail from 67 different communities across Newfoundland. As of 2020, roughly 95 per cent of Qalipu members live in Newfoundland and Labrador; the other 5 per cent live throughout Canada. The Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation currently controls no reserve land. (See also Reserves in Newfoundland and Labrador.)

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Charlie Panigoniak

Charlie Panigoniak, ONu, singer, songwriter, guitarist (born 7 March 1946 in Eskimo Point, NWT [now Arviat, NU]; died 6 March 2019 in Rankin Inlet, NU). Charlie Panigoniak was one of the first people to write, record and perform music in Inuktitut. Often referred to as the “Johnny Cash of the North,” he is considered by many to be the father of Inuktitut music. (See also Music of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.) He was a Member of the Order of Nunavut and a recipient of the Nunavut Commissioner’s Performing Arts Award.

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Cree Language

The Cree language (also called Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi) is spoken in many parts of Canada, from the Rocky Mountains in the west to Labrador in the east. Cree is also spoken in northern Montana in the United States. Often written in syllabics (i.e., symbols representing a combination of consonant and vowel, or just a consonant or vowel), Cree is one of the most widely spoken Indigenous languages in Canada. In the 2016 census, 96,575 people reported speaking Cree.

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Odawa

Odawa (or Ottawa) are an Algonquian-speaking people (see Indigenous Languages in Canada) living north of the Huron-Wendat at the time of French penetration to the Upper Great Lakes. A tradition of the Odawa, shared by the Ojibwa and Potawatomi, states that these three groups were once one people. The division of the Upper Great Lake Algonquians apparently took place at Michilimackinac, the meeting point of lakes Huron and Michigan. The Odawa, or "traders," remained near Michilimackinac, while the Potawatomi, "Those-who-make-or-keep-a-fire," moved south, up Lake Michigan. The Ojibwa (Ojibwe), or "To-roast-till-puckered-up," went northwest to Sault Ste Marie.

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Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy (née Ferguson, pen name Janey Canuck), writer, journalist, magistrate, political and legal reformer (born 14 March 1868 in Cookstown, ON; died 27 October 1933 in Edmonton, AB). Emily Murphy was the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. She was also one of the Famous Five behind the Persons Case, the successful campaign to have women declared persons in the eyes of British law. A self-described rebel, she was an outspoken feminist and suffragist and a controversial figure. Her views on immigration and eugenics have been criticized as racist and elitist. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1958 and an honorary senator in 2009.

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Tlingit

The Tlingit (sometimes also known as the Łingít) are Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America who share a common cultural heritage. Tlingit means “people of the tides.” In the 2016 Census, 2,110 people identified as having Tlingit ancestry.

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Inuktitut

Inuktitut is an Indigenous language in North America spoken in the Canadian Arctic. The 2016 census reported 39,770 speakers, of which 65 per cent lived in Nunavut and 30.8 per cent in Quebec. Inuktitut is part of a larger Inuit language continuum (a series of dialects) stretching from Alaska to Greenland. Inuktitut uses a writing system called syllabics, created originally for the Cree language, which represent combinations of consonants and vowels. The language is also written in the Roman alphabet, and this is the exclusive writing system used in Labrador and parts of Western Nunavut. Inuktitut is a polysynthetic language, meaning that words tend to be longer and structurally more complex than their English or French counterparts.

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Patriation of the Constitution

In 1982, Canada fully broke from its colonial past and “patriated” its Constitution. It transferred the country’s highest law, the British North America Act (which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867), from the authority of the British Parliament to Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures. The Constitution was also updated with a new amending formula and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These changes occurred after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country.